This summer, Felipe Becker and I joined the MuseumCamp at the Museum of Art and History of Santa Cruz (California). Every year, 100 people (who work in museums or feel connected to this sector) are selected to attend this intense 3-day event led by Nina Simon. This years’ theme was Changemaking, or how to drive change in organizations.
As creators of Unique Visitors, a startup that drives the participation of museum visitors, we are fans and followers of Nina Simon since her book The Participative Museum. Both the event and visiting the Santa Cruz Museum were great experiences. I share some of the things that caught our attention the most these days:
Members of MuseumCamp 2016
All organizations have the goal of reaching more diverse audiences, but Nina Simon argues that diversity is best practiced from the inside out. Organizations should have a more diverse staff. MuseumCamp gives the example: at the selection process, a candidate of a minority group has more points. It’s been the conference with a more diverse audience than I’ve been, and you can tell the difference. This plurality of backgrounds provided very interesting visions in the discussions where everyone felt included to participate.
Monica O. Montgomery, co-founder of Museum Hue, an organization that works to increase diversity in the boards, professional teams and cultural producers of cultural organizations, was one of the speakers. It made me think that, in my experience in a cultural institution in Barcelona, I was the only foreigner in the office staff, while foreigners represented 12% of the population of Barcelona and 14% in Catalonia. We need to rethink the recruitment models and what kind of person we privilege with the established criteria. Regarding this, I recommend reading this post by Elizabeth Merritt where she explains her experience with a selection process that favors diversity.
The three-day event is VERY intense. The programming starts at breakfast and continues until dinner, and as the name suggests, you can stay to sleep in the museum (one third of attendees do!).
The UnConference format privileges the participation and discussion over the formal structure of sessions. There were different presentations and workshops at the same time. In addition to the talk by Monica Montgomery, the most anticipated session was Nina Simon’s, who talked about how to drive change from a leadership position.
— Jason Alderman (@justsomeguy) September 1, 2016
Notes about Nina Simon’s the presentation by Jason Alderman
Other workshops to highlight were the Restorative practices applied to education and institutional leadership, by Rob Simon); and Playing with the Future, a workshop using a deck of cards divided into 4 axes (object, terrain, time / transformation and sensation) that guides us in a playful way at the challenging task of thinking of the future.
The deck that helps us think about the future
But what caught our attention the most was not the format of the sessions, but the theme. They were not focused in the museum sector, organizations, audiences or market, like other conferences we usually attend. Activities focused on individuals, not only as professionals but also in a broader sense, the individual as a driving force for change.
Our collective project during these days was the making of a fanzine, a low-cost print publication traditionally associated with the counterculture. Each group was responsible for making a zine. Felipe’s group has created a zine on Active Listening, where it was emphasized that the first step to change is to listen carefully to others, in order to get to know your audience, your colleagues, your environment. I participated in the group that claimed Failure: with a funny tone, we talk about being proud of our failures and recognizing them as a path to learning. Here you can check all the fanzines created in the camp.
The 17 fanzines created
Permanent exhibition on the history of Santa Cruz
For readers of Nina Simon’s blog and books (The Participatory Museum and the recent The Art of Relevance), attending Museum Camp was also an opportunity to get acquainted first hand with the Museum of Art and History of Santa Cruz, a local museum that completely changed its management model in recent years to become a more participatory and relevant museum for its community. In a guided tour with its director we saw how they manage to achieve a cozy atmosphere, chose exhibition themes and select pieces that are of local interest. We were also able to attend the First Friday event, a monthly open house with concerts, food, drink and access to the exhibitions that really moves the city. Finally, we learned about the museum’s expansion plans, which include the construction of a plaza and the incorporation of a building that will house a complex of restaurants, bars and cafés in order to promote leisure and occupy the urban space. This new leisure space will be integrated into the museum, with the intention of generating flow of people in the area, in an economically sustainable way.
MAH Expansion Project